Election Was No Surprise When Looking at Shrugs and Smiles

By Seth Daniel

When jaws dropped last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as the national election returns began to favor President-elect Donald Trump, one apolitical political predictor had a very big “told you so” moment.

Boston area businessman and political prognosticator Don Khoury is known for turning down the sound on political races. By doing that and analyzing non-verbal communications like smiles and body movements, he has built up quite a body of correct predictions on the outcomes of elections.

One of those predictions was that Donald Trump would win the presidential election. It’s a prediction he made many months ago and one he stuck with throughout the debates.

“It’s not the message; it’s the messenger,” he said in an interview this week. “In 2012, if President Obama had been the Republican nominee and Mitt Romney had been the Democratic nominee, who would have won? I believe Obama would have still won because it’s not about party or message. It’s what you see and how they make you feel…Last January, and maybe even further back, I said on the record that (Donald) Trump beats (Hillary) Clinton and (Bernie) Sanders beats Trump in a general election. It turned out to be right and I did make a determination early that Trump would win.”

For years, Khoury – a business development executive by day – had a theory that unlocking the purse strings for venture capitalists relied more on the non-verbal communications than it did on any presentations or number-crunching reports.

“I had a theory for a long time that people were more likely to get funding from a venture capitalist based on non-verbal behaviors than on presentation,” he said. “Being a political junkie, I though I would  predict these races based on the their effect on a voter. For a long time, I watched hundreds of debates on CSPAN and developed this scoring system.”

One of the strongest non-verbal debates historically, he said, was the 1960 Richard Nixon vs. John Kennedy debates – the first televised debate. Another big one, he said was the Massachusetts Senatorial debates between Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney in 1994.

“I find the Town Hall format really exposes flaws in non-verbal communication or preparation,” he said. “In that debate, Kennedy was so well prepared and Romney really wasn’t in terms of understanding the issues and that showed up in the non-verbal scoring. That was a Town Hall too.”

The system, he said, is only reliable for top ballot races in major elections, such as for governor or president. That, he said, is because people take personality more into consideration over party affiliation. Once personality is involved, the non-verbal queues begin to show up.

So far it has worked.

In 2010, Khoury picked 35 of 37 gubernatorial elections, and in 2012, he never waivered from picking President Obama because his non-verbal skills were so strong. Though he reserves the right to change his early predictions after viewing debates, he said with the Trump election, he never felt the need.

“It wasn’t that Trump was so good non-verbally, but that Clinton was so bad,” he said. “America is absolutely ready for a woman president, but she was the wrong candidate. It was the facial expressions and people said she skirted the truth and that also came across in her non-verbal behavior. I was picking up on those things.”

For the debates, Khoury said his non-verbal system favored Trump overwhelmingly, as negatives like insincere smiles, contemptuous facial expressions and looking down often piled up against Clinton.

“In debate one, interestingly, she had more negative finger pointing, but in debate two, he had more negative finger pointing, which might have had to do with the formats,” he said. “In the third debate, she shrugged a lot. When someone shrugs their shoulders during a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it’s a strong communication they don’t believe it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. All these things are things people don’t see, but they read them. They may not consciously do that, but I believe they do read them.”

Based on his system, which he has detailed several times on local television shows like Jon Keller’s ‘Keller at Large,’ he had Debate 1 going to Trump 209-37, Debate 2 to Trump 107-67, and Debate 3 to Trump 134-21.

He stressed that he is not for one political party and has no interest in the outcome except to pick the person he believes has scored best within his system.

“I think that’s why I have a good track record; I don’t follow any party specifically,” he said. “I always say to people I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, I’m a Canadian – which is true.”

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